Aims: The pathogenesis of diabetic autonomic neuropathy is multifactorial, but recent studies have suggested a link between the presence of autoantibodies to nervous tissue structures and severe, symptomatic autonomic neuropathy. The present study was designed to examine the true prevalence of these autoantibodies in a large clinic-based population of Type 1 diabetic patients compared to nondiabetic controls.
Methods: The presence of complement fixing autoantibodies to vagus nerve (CF-VN), sympathetic ganglion (CF-SG) and adrenal medulla (CF-ADM) was assessed by immunofluorescence in a large cohort of patients (n = 394) of varying duration of Type 1 DM (median 28 years, range 6 months to 73 years) and 160 age and sex-matched nondiabetic control subjects.
Results: All three autoantibodies were frequently detected in Type 1 DM (CF-VN, 22.1%; CF-SG, 30.7%; CF-ADM, 13.2%) but only rarely in healthy control subjects (4.4%, 4.4% and 3.1%, respectively; P < 0.0005 for all). There was no association between any of the autoantibodies and retinopathy (fundoscopy), peripheral somatic neuropathy (biothesiometry) or nephropathy (urinary albumin-creatinine ratio).
Conclusions: Our results on this large cohort establish the extensive presence of autonomic nervous tissue autoantibodies in Type 1 DM. Their role in reflecting, causing or predicting autonomic neuropathy remains to be determined.